Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter functions like a two-edged sword (or ax, to reference Honest Abe’s weapon of choice). For every pro, there’s a con; for every moment of greatness, there’s a moment of frustration. From the gimmicky action sequences to the rapid pacing, the film turns out to be a mashup in both genre and outcome.
It starts with the story. In reconstructing history, Bekmambetov, working with a script that Seth Grahame-Smith adapted from his best-selling novel, brings to the screen a cluster of clever ideas. The ridiculous premise actually arrives full of symbolism that connects vampires and Manifest Destiny, with the former representing all that was and is wrong with the American dream—racism, slavery and greed. The problem, though, is that even though these ideas are somewhat apparent, Bekmambetov fails to delve into them and move his film into satire or social commentary. Like a vague reference to the Underground Railroad, they remain empty metaphors, void of substantial meaning.
That said, in terms of story, Bekmambetov covers 50 years of American history like a champ. Through ultra-quick cuts and edits, he moves his film along with speed and urgency, documenting Lincoln’s life—well, one version of it anyway—in a fast hour and a half. But in taking this stylized approach, which invokes the swift editing of the talented Edgar Wright, Bekmambetov also creates a number of incoherent transitions, introducing new scenes so awkwardly and abruptly that he basically fails to introduce them at all.
We see the same speediness, though contrasted by several slow-motion shots, in the visual effects that also emerge with mixed results. Bekmambetov shot the film in 3D (thank God), and the medium fits cohesively into an aesthetic totally defined by camp. But as fun and striking as all the over-the-top action may be, especially against the pulsating score from Henry Jackman, it often proves frustratingly incomprehensible, epitomizing what film critic Matthias Stork has dubbed “chaos cinema.”
Amid the middling economy, the one elevating element comes in the performances, especially that of Benjamin Walker. Playing Lincoln, the young actor doesn’t just totally look the part—he literally personifies the concept of mashup, putting together a performance that flits back and forth from high drama to preposterous one-liners to impressive stunts. Walker’s striking turn, and those from Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and the always-creepy Rufus Sewell, tip the scales just enough to make the film work—to prevent this particular two-edged sword from becoming too unwieldy. Still, that doesn’t stop the viewer from wishing those scales had been tipped even further so that this tale of our 16th president and his trusty ax could have been a little more fun.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay and novel)
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson
Release Date: June 22, 2012